Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil is staying mum after a former staffer says the Liberals turned their back on her when she was assaulted by another party staffer – her partner.
In an interview with The Coast newspaper, Michelle Coffin spoke in detail about a 2014 assault at the hands of the premier’s former communications director, Kyley Harris, her then-boyfriend.
Once a Liberal insider who had herself held the top communications job, Coffin says the party turned its back on her when the domestic violence case came to light.
Coffin confirmed her account in The Coast to The Canadian Press on Thursday but declined to comment further.
Harris pleaded guilty to assault and was fired from his post, but the premier said at the time he lost his job because he failed to disclose the assault, not because of the criminal charges stemming from the violent act.
Coffin says when Harris was quietly rehired by the party, she was at first relieved he found a job.
But that relief turned to shock when she discovered he had been promoted from a behind-the-scenes Liberal caucus office researcher position to the party’s top communications job ahead of last month’s provincial election campaign.
Harris eventually stepped down, citing the controversy surrounding his presence, but Coffin said the incident prompted her to come forward and tell her side of the story and what she describes as the arrogance displayed by the Liberal party.
Coffin says she was never once contacted by anyone from the party. Instead, she says she’s been ignored, with former colleagues pretending she doesn’t exist.
David Jackson, a spokesman in the premier’s office, said Thursday McNeil commented on the issue during the campaign and would not speak further about it.
At a campaign stop in early May, McNeil said Harris deserved “a second chance” after he pleaded guilty to striking Coffin in the face.
In The Coast, Coffin suggested Liberal officials downplayed the seriousness of the assault at the time, expressing concern for the repercussions on Harris, who was given a conditional discharge with nine months’ probation.
Former federal Conservative leader Rona Ambrose took to social media last month to say Harris’s re-hiring sent a “terrible message,” and that Liberal leaders “need to walk the talk on violence against women.”
The Liberal campaign platform committed to a plan aimed at “ending gender-based violence” upon re-election.
“We must also work to prevent domestic violence from happening in the first place,” the platform said. “Our plan will create a continuum of programs to address domestic violence, focused on primary prevention and providing victims support to rebuild their lives.”
Harris was eligible for a severance in the range of $45,000 when he was fired in 2014. He was rehired in the fall of 2015.
In an emailed statement to The Coast, Harris called his actions three years ago “disgraceful.”
“Throughout this process, I have grown in my understanding of the incident, myself, my mental health and the types of relationships that make up my life,” Harris said. “I’ve now lost my job twice over this. I accept those consequences and I continue to seek ways to make amends for what I have done.”
The Canadian Press was unable to reach Harris for further comment Thursday.